Heidi Trautmann

593 - BRT – The Voice of Freedom for 50 years - A glance back to its beginnings

By Heidi Trautmann


On 25 December Bayrak Radio Television Corporation celebrated the 50th anniversary of its establishment with a reception to which many state and government officials as well as retired and current personnel of the corporation attended the reception which was held at the Hidden Garden in Lefkoşa. The current BRT Director Mete Tümerkan reminded that the Bayrak Radio was established with the aim of announcing the Cyprus Turkish People’s existence on the island and make their rightful voice be heard. Politicians stepped forward to deliver their congratulations, the Leader of the Social Democratic Party Cemal Özyiğit; the Leader of the main opposition National Unity Party Hüseyin Özgürgün; the Turkish Ambassador to Lefkoşa Halil İbrahim Akça; the Second President Mehmet Ali Talat, the Prime Minister Özkan Yorgancıoğlu; the Speaker of the Parliament Sibel Siber, and finally President Derviş Eroğlu who took to the stage last also praised BRT for being the voice of the Cyprus Turkish People and said ‘the BRT is now being watched around the world.

Seven years ago on the occasion of the 43rd anniversary I wrote an article on the very beginnings of BRT and I spoke to some of the first staff members and also to Can Gazi in a separate interview. For me it was history I encountered. The article was published in Cyprus Today and also in my book ‘Art and Creativity in North Cyprus’ because as BRT Radio and Television Corporation they have always been heavily supporting art and culture, be it in the Turkish and/or the International channels, BRT I and BRT II.

I would like to bring some extracts of my encounters with people who have taken part and/or witnessed the humble beginnings, some of them have already left Station Earth, but they will not be forgotten.


Extract from:Voices from Yesterday”

It was 21 December, 1963.  Greek and Turkish Cypriots were face-to-face in open war less than two months after President Makarios had changed the Cyprus constitution, established under the watchful eyes of three guarantor countries, on November 3.

Erdoğan Naim used his hands as he described those momentous events and his eyes still looked troubled.  “I worked for CBS (Cypriot Broadcasting Services) as a shift engineer,” he said. “I was called to meet the Turkish Cypriot resistance group, TMT, in Nicosia. There were other technicians and engineers present and we were asked to set up our own radio station. 'We need a voice, we need to communicate with all our villages across the country', they told us. We Turkish Cypriots lived in enclaves – enclosed villages – there were Greek checkpoints and it was a nightmare to cross them.”

“We got the basic material together from ex-British army goods acquired by auction or other organising means. And as technicians, we knew where other necessary parts were. We had to get a transmitter, which we knew was on the Greek side and we secretly ‘organised’ the arrival of the equipment, which weighed around 1000 kilos. We worked night and day, about 30 of us, on this project.”

“But what could we do about a power supply to get the transmitter started?  In one night, we collected 120 car batteries and connected them all up to do the job. On December 23, from Dr. Küçük's (the Turkish Cypriot leader at that period, Dr. Fazil Küçük) garage, and for the first time, our voice went on air calling: “Bayrak – Bayrak – Bayrak” (bayrak is Turkish for flag).”

What frequency were they using, I asked. As an amateur radio operator myself, I was interested in the technical details and I could understand Erdoğan Naim’s excitement – and the considerable challenge he and his friends faced in carrying out their covert scheme.

“We transmitted on medium wave at 1400 kHz as there were hardly any short wave radios in Turkish Cypriot homes,” he replied, adding: “We used a 40 metre-long antenna and worked hard to improve the whole set-up, including the transmission range.  Later we moved into a proper building on top of the post office in Nicosia.”

While one team, including Erdoğan Naim, improved the technical infrastructure of the fledgling Bayrak Radio – including setting up a workshop for building and repairing radios for villagers and then delivering them – another team started work on programme-making. Items were to consist of information and entertainment aimed at bolstering national pride and reducing the isolation of embattled Turkish Cypriot communities.

İlter Sami, the well known Turkish Cypriot tennis player born in 1946, who counted many Greek Cypriots among his tennis partners and opponents, was asked to join Bayrak Radio in 1966 as an English-language broadcaster. “I was interested, not least because it left me with more time to play tennis, so I quit the army and joined BRT,” he said. Where had he learned to speak such good English, albeit with a slight American accent? “My tuition was practically all on tennis courts,” he said. “In my schooldays, there was no tennis at all in our circles. I started off with table tennis and then one day by mere chance it happened that I had to play tennis and so my career began, along with a proper training programme. As I was the only tennis player around, I was asked by British, American and other Embassies to teach the game to their staff or to their children. And so I became a tennis coach. Since all my days were spent in their company, I soon spoke the sophisticated English of my clientele – learning by doing, so to speak.”

“I started by reading the news in English, transmitted in the morning, around lunchtime and in the evening. Later, I had two musical programmes, but the time in between I spent on the tennis court.”

Between 1963 and 1966, there was no crossing the border of the Turkish Cypriot enclaves, no more tennis in the Greek community for İlter, but the friends he still had on the “other side” could at least hear his voice.  “You cannot imagine what that isolation meant to me; I, who had represented Cyprus abroad, I, who had won trophies for Cyprus, I who had been awarded a trophy by Glafkos Clerides, Lady Harding and others – look here at all the trophies along the wall – I was all of a sudden cut off.  But still, I was happy to continue coaching in our own Sports Club and with all my other sports activities.” İlter Sami pointed out with pride the big trophy he was later awarded by the then President Rauf Denktaş when he was named “Sportsman of the Year” in 1988.

Times at the early Bayrak Radio were very difficult; sometimes the radio staff slept in their cars or in the studio. “One day while I was reading the news, a bomb hit our roof. Everybody rushed out of the building but I read on because the enemy was not to know the bomb had hit us. Fortunately it did not explode. You see, we lived with danger, it was the air we inhaled every single day for all those years.” İlter Sami stayed with Bayrak Radio for 21 years until 1987.


Feyziye Hulusi also joined Bayrak Radio in 1966. She had had ten years' experience in the CBS (Cyprus Broadcasting Services), from 1953 to 1963, when all Turkish Cypriots were removed from such positions. Until 1966 she worked for Dr. Küçük in the Information Office, when she was offered the job of programming for Bayrak Radio.  During the following eleven years she set up ten programmes to entertain and inform her Turkish Cypriot audience – with titles such as Musical Puzzle where she gave clues and the listeners had to guess, Seven Pages from the Calendar, where she narrated what had happened on those days in the past; programmes to introduce music and instruments and historical programmes, teaching history.

“I had to do a lot of research but I was used to working hard,” she said. “Every morning I got up at five o’clock to start work at six and I went home late at night. There was also a Woman’s Hour programme, which was very important for me.  I was president of the local women's group for nineteen years, until I had to hand over due to my age.”

Mrs Hulusi, who did so much for her country, especially during those hard years, leaned back on the sofa,  now aged 85, and let her eyes wander through the window and to the sea beyond.  Her voice was still beautiful and strong. “I had not seen the sea for eleven years; from ’63 to ’74, we were not allowed to go over the mountains to Kyrenia.  I knew how our people felt, being enclosed and isolated from the normal activities of life.  That is why Bayrak Radio was so important: our voices created a bond between the villages, between all the individuals, and to the outside world.  We were the guarantor that those people did not feel alone any more. It glued us together.”

Gönen, her daughter, who had left the island with her husband Kenan Atakol in January 1964, so they could both study in the United States – an adventure story in its own right – sat with us and filled in the disturbing details.  The harassment of Greek checks and random searches made people think twice about leaving the enclaves, but their trade had to go on, and scarce food had to be brought to the markets. Melon crops loaded on cars had to be unloaded for checks or they were just destroyed; things were confiscated; and they all had to keep their mouths shut. Mrs Hulusi continued: “When they came home, they could listen to Bayrak Radio and their pride – their national pride – was built up again. I talked about Turkish traditions and played national music to make them strong again. I read poetry and told stories. It was a tremendous effort for all of us, the team on Bayrak Radio. They called me ‘abla’, which means ‘older sister’ and they still do. We were very intimate, a big family, we had one common goal and were sincere and genuine about it.”

Then came 1974 and the chaos of the coup. Mrs Hulusi’s son was shot. Immersed in her work, she learned of it only eight days later. The government was taken over by Samson and he announced on state radio that Makarios was dead.  Bayrak Radio learned through other channels that this was not the case, and was the first station to announce the truth worldwide. The situation had become very dangerous for Turkish Cypriots.  It was now a matter of life or death. On 20 July, 1974, the Turkish intervention began: landing troops in Karaoğlanoğlu and parachuting in troops near Nicosia.  Bayrak Radio reported on each step forward, putting over the message that Turkish Cypriots were now safe.

“We all cried with joy, played national music and marches all day, said Mrs Hulusi. “OK, there were still some more political shockwaves until everything was settled, but can you imagine, that for the first time in years we felt safe!  We Turkish Cypriots, felt that once again we were free! And we must not forget all those people who had died in those years of hate, how many had lost their families.  I lost my son, but there were also those on the Greek side in the fight – also Greek against Greek – all for an idea which only a handful of people had in the beginning, a political idea that poisoned respect for one another.”

Shortly after the landing of the Turkish army, a group of Turkish resistance fighters went to take over the TV Station in Kantara.  The roof had been damaged by a bomb but after some repair work, it was soon back in action. That was the beginning of Bayrak TV, which first aired on 26 August, 1974, Erdoğan Naim had told me.


When I did this interview in 2006, so many things had changed. Bayrak Radio is now  located on the road towards Ercan, a high antenna securing good transmission of its five radio and two TV channels. I have often been guest of Can Gazi for interviews and the cooperation that resulted from those talks was always great. Can is an old hand with BRT and one of his first programmes was Places and Faces, today it is a Cup of Conversation. I have also been invited by Denise Philips who does radio interviews, she is in the business for many years and we often met her in the streets for cultural events always full of energy. Zeki Ali with his well known jazz programmes and Music on the Edge.  There are so many others, for example Hakan Cakmak of BRT I doing the Art and Culture Programme; we see him present at most events himself. Not to forget all those I have not personally met who contribute to the success of BRT, and that on the international channel in several languages.

The director I spoke to in 2006 was Hüseyin Gürşan, a young and energetic man appointed General Manager by President Mehmet Ali Talat.  He was followed by Ahmet Okan and today there is Mete Tümerkan sitting on the General Manager’s chair.

My best wishes go to the team of BRT for the next decade and I am happy that I had the opportunity to gain a valuable insight into its history.





Feyziye Hulusi
Feyziye Hulusi

Feyziye Hulusi in later years getting one of the many awards
Feyziye Hulusi in later years getting one of the many awards

Ilter Sami as Sportsman of the Year with Rauf Denktas
Ilter Sami as Sportsman of the Year with Rauf Denktas

Ilter Sami given a trophy by G. Clerides
Ilter Sami given a trophy by G. Clerides

Ilter Sami, photo taken by the author during the interview
Ilter Sami, photo taken by the author during the interview

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